Books hold more secrets than just stories

The Halifax Public Library finds notes and other treasures hidden between book pages.

You make your way to the local library to get your hands on the newest literary sensation. As you near the checkout desk, you peel your eyes away from the page and notice a stray piece of paper poking out the top.

Tugging on the corner reveals it’s in fact a long-lost postcard.

This is one of the many examples of the hidden gems that library staff find in books, says Christina Covert, Halifax Central Library’s circulation supervisor.

“The normal Kleenex, grocery receipts, bills, bank statements — those we see all the time,” says Covert.

A quick walk around the library’s third floor results in a new bookmark, a postcard and tiny sugar-packet-sized drawing being added to the collection of forgotten items.

Bookmark, drawing and postcard found during a quick search at the library. (Photo: Francis Tessier-Burns)
Bookmark, drawing and postcard found during a quick search of books at the library. (Photo: Francis Tessier-Burns)

Covert says she’s seen everything from toilet paper and condom wrappers to government cheques stuck between pages.

For important items, such as debit and credit cards, the library tries to track down the owner. If their efforts turn up empty, the library typically holds on to items for about a month before throwing them out.

Then there are little notes purposefully stuck in a book’s spine.

“I especially like the ones where people recommend a particular book,” says Covert, “Like, ‘If you like this then you might also like that,’ type of thing.”

Although the library doesn’t condone leaving things in books, sometimes it’s hard to prevent.

“If it’s on a small piece of scrap paper, we won’t notice unless it falls out,” says Covert. “Books can go for month and months without us knowing someone’s put something inside it.”

Kasia Morrison, a spokeswoman for the library, says last fall she saw a book and there was a note in it stating the book had come all the way from Iceland.

Flipping through the pages reveals it’s the property of the Library and Archives Canada, and was last checked out in 1987. Morrison is unsure how – or why – it ended up at the central location.

“Someone wanted to clear their library conscience and return it,” she says with a laugh.

Safe to say, the note was anonymous.

Covert’s favourite note actually came from a children’s book. “It was a list of someone’s goals. ‘When I’m 30, I will have done this’,” she says.

“It was in big letters, some were even backwards,” she says with a smile.

Unfortunately, not all notes are as heartwarming.

“I’ve seen books with notes discouraging people from picking up certain authors,” says Covert.

And that’s if they haven’t defaced the book completely.

“Use your imagination for what you could possibly find in a book. If you can think of it, someone is going to do it, and you can find it if you look hard enough,” says Covert.

March Break Video Academy gives youths learning opportunity

The Centre for Art Tapes is holding a video workshop over March Break that is centered around giving youths an introduction into filmmaking.

Six youths between the ages of 12 and 17 are spending their March Break getting acquainted with the art of filmmaking – in a program that is the first of its kind in Halifax.

The March Break Video Academy runs from Monday to Friday this week. These teens will spend this time in a small room discussing big ideas and learning fundamental filmmaking skills from two industry professionals.

So far, they have viewed and discussed videos ranging from modern music videos to short films, dissecting every artistic detail to understand them better.

It is the first program of its kind to be held by the Centre for Art Tapes (CFAT). Spearheading the program are Luckas Cardona-Morisset, freelance filmmaker, and Leslie Menagh, arts promoter.

A discussion taking place at the March Break Video Academy. Photo: Patrick Fulgencio

“There’s a visual language that we assume everybody knows but it’s actually been very carefully constructed over time, it’s been built up,” said Menagh. “So we were kind of working to deconstruct it, take it apart, look at the parts so that we can make those choices on purpose when we make our own film, and look at how deliberate each of those decisions are.”

The next four days will involve workshops on storytelling, prop building, video editing and then a screening on the last day.

“Young people are exposed to media all around them so this is an opportunity for them to learn how it works, how it functions, from the real grassroots to creating their own media,” said Keith McPhail, director of CFAT.

Keith McPhail in the main office of the Centre for Art Tapes. Photo: Patrick Fulgencio

Not a moment of silence ever loomed over the discussions; the teens gave the facilitators their undivided attention.

“What you end up getting are kids that already are predisposed to thinking about these things. They’re quite thoughtful,” said Cardona-Morisset. “As long as they feel like they’re in a safe space to be creative, once you create that, then it can all come out and they can express themselves.”

Like the Atlantic Film Co-op, CFAT focuses on supporting media artists. The March Break Video Academy, however, focuses specifically on youths. As McPhail describes, it is “an opportunity for us to perhaps make [youth programming] a little more long-term.”

Participants of the March Break Video Academy watching a short film. Photo: Patrick Fulgencio

“My experience in working with the arts is that it’s an opportunity that when youth – or anybody for that matter – of any age gets the opportunity to express themselves and learn something, it’s a real eye-opening experience,” said McPhail. “And it’s one that is usually a long-lasting impact.”

Video games showcased on a major scale by Symphony Nova Scotia

For the first time in Halifax, Symphony Nova Scotia performed Video Games Live, a concert featuring songs from popular video games, at the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium.

The conductor raises her baton, signalling to the musicians seated in front of her to ready their instruments. With a flick of the conductor’s wrist, the symphony and choir begin to play an upbeat and lively song from the popular video game Tetris. With bright lights illuminating the stage, images of colourful geometric shapes are projected onto three screens behind the orchestra to amplify the performance.

On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday people flocked to the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium at the Dalhousie Arts Centre to witness Video Games Live.

Performed by Symphony Nova Scotia, Video Games Live showcases segments of songs from popular video games such as Kingdom Hearts, Tetris, Sonic the Hedgehog, Final Fantasy and Metal Gear Solid.

Colourful lighting, special effects and interactive elements, such as a Guitar Hero competition, are also incorporated into the shows.

Alongside vocalist, Jillian Aversa, and conductor, Eimear Noone, Symphony Nova Scotia performs “Tetris Opera” from Video Games Live. (Video by Jessica Hirtle)

“I kind of like to describe it as having all the power and emotion of an orchestra combined with the energy of a rock concert,” said Tommy Tallarico, co-creator, executive producer and host of Video Games Live.

Sold out for almost every show, Heidi MacPhee, director of communications and marketing at Symphony Nova Scotia, said Video Games Live has received rave reviews from spectators.

“It’s been amazing. People love it. They are just so happy,” said MacPhee.

MacPhee said that Symphony Nova Scotia has wanted to collaborate with Video Games Live for years. This is the first time Video Games Live has performed in Nova Scotia.

“We get requests for it all the time,” said MacPhee. “They’ve performed all over the world and it’s just really exciting to have this calibre of show here in Halifax.”

Tallarico and Jack Wall created Video Games Live more than 13 years ago. Touring since 2005, the concert series has performed around the globe in over 35 countries, including China, Brazil, Mexico, France and Portugal.

A video game composer, Tallarico has contributed to approximately 300 video games in his career. He said he created Video Games Live to demonstrate the artistry of video games, while promoting the arts among young people.

Not only can video game lovers appreciate the show, but Tallarico said non-gamers equally benefit from watching Video Games Live.

“When parents come and bring their kids or grandparents bring their grandkids, they are the ones that are most blown away,” said Tallarico. “They are like, ‘I never knew video games were this incredible. I never knew the music was so powerful and emotional.’”

Local author digs deep into mystery on Oak Island

Author and retired miner John O’Brien connects Nova Scotia’s Oak Island to the ancient Aztecs.

For more than 200 years, Oak Island off the coast of Mahone Bay has been at the centre of a mystery that has attracted international attention, all because of what is supposedly buried along its shores. Following the discovery of the Money Pit (a massive, man-made pit thought to be the location of buried treasure) in 1795, the mystery of Oak Island has fascinated the world.

On Wednesday evening, the second floor theatre of the Discovery Centre on Barrington Street was full as local author and retired miner John OBrien described his attempt to understand whats buried on Oak Island and how it got there. His new book, Oak Island Unearthed, explains his theories and claims to offer evidence to back them up.

“The evidence that they have, the carbon-dating and what not, has totally, almost been ignored. It’s so hard to put the puzzle together,” said O’Brien, who has been interested in the mystery of Oak Island since he was a child.

The Money Pit has been central to the treasure hunt since it was first discovered. An intricate system of rock and lumber, OBrien explained its composition using a glass of water and a plastic straw. He said that the unearthing of the pit is what allowed the ocean water that had been kept out since its construction to finally flood inside. He also said that this was done to deter any treasure hunters, and that the pit is a distraction from where the treasure is really hidden.

“There was tons of coconut fibres found on both surface and underground…this is the only indication of where these people came from,” said O’Brien. “Coconut fibre don’t come from the Vikings. It don’t come from Europe. It comes from the south.”

OBriens theory on the mystery dates all the way back to the time of the Aztecs, when he says the ancient kingdom was looking for a place to hide precious artifacts from incoming Spanish invaders. He believes that hiding place was Oak Island. O’Brien suggests that the Aztecs had previously discovered the island while searching for a type of blue clay that they highly valued and was easily accessible from the shore. 

“There’s no way they’re going to hide it close by… so they picked a place in its history. They had a pigment called Mayan blue. They used it to paint their pyramids, their temples. Anyway, I’m down on Oak Island, being a mining man, and I’m watching the drilling that’s going on there… they kept hitting this blue clay.”

Toward the end of the presentation, an audience member asked why OBrien was so eager to share the location that he believed to be the site of the treasure.

“Nobody’s ever solved the mystery of Oak Island,” answered O’Brien. “I don’t have the money to get a company to go down there and do that. I just wanted to… put my idea out. I’m not hiding anything. It’s there, that’s where I say it is. Someday if they do some work and it’s there, they’ll say, ‘Hey, that guy was right.’ That’s probably all I’ll get out of it.”

Nowadays, the island is privately owned, and OBrien says that legal and financial restrictions could restrict any treasure on the island from ever being discovered, if there is even one to find. But he seems confident that there is something worth looking for on the island.

Nobody would do that much work,OBrien said, to hide marbles.

A buckling and box stepping welcome for international students

International Student Ministries of Halifax held a line-dancing event to help foreign student adjust to life in Halifax.

International Student Ministries of Halifax held a line-dancing event last Saturday at the First Baptist Church. This event was one of a series of Saturday events to support the international student community in Halifax.

The organization relies on volunteer support to help run events such as line-dancing.

“We know a couple people who can teach line-dancing and it was of some interest to the group. We have done line-dancing before and the students seemed to enjoy it,” said Chi Perrie, a co-ordinator of the International Student Ministries of Halifax.

Some of the international students had tried line-dancing before when the group introduced it last year. Others had never done it before but were willing to try something new.

One of the volunteers, Susan Page, helped lead the group by demonstrating the steps to the students and staff. Once all the individual steps were taught, the music was played and they put the whole dance together.


line dancing
Susan Page, a volunteer, writes out the line-dancing steps. (Photo Credit: Samantha Calio)

“We like to introduce something fun. We’ve done board games, cooking and a variety of other activities, it varies every week,” said Chi Perrie.

International Student Ministries of Canada are a faith-based organization that partner with local churches to allow international students to explore beliefs. They also put emphasis on wanting a loving, supportive environment for international students to feel welcome in their new home.

“My wife and I both experienced what it was like to be international students in another country, so we have empathy towards people who come from far away and don’t have a support group,” said Will Perrie, a co-ordinator of the International Student Ministries of Halifax.

They provide a potluck meal for the students as well as hold discussion groups to help the students with communication skills and discuss faith.

“We have had students from all different faith backgrounds such as Muslim or Buddhist, we accept everyone,” said Chi Perrie.

Every week Will Perrie prepares a discussion topic that is led by a volunteer in small groups. They use the Bible to reference topics and engage the students in exploring different topics through faith.

“I can meet new people and get involved through these events. They have also been helping me get a new job,” said Ada Hika, an Ethiopian refugee from Hong Kong.

The organization has recently turned to Kijiji as a form of social media and to advertise the line-dancing event.

The popularity of the events fluctuate depending on the time of year and the event. They find that during exam periods fewer people will come. They also find that they are competing with university held events.

Will and Chi Perrie are also looking for Canadian students to come to events to teach international students about Canadian culture.

Events are held every Saturday at 6 p.m. at the First Baptist Church. Event information can be found at


CKDU celebrates 30 years on the air

On Monday, an exhibit called What’s Left on the Dial: A CKDU Retrospective, opened at the Khyber Centre for Arts. The art exhibit celebrates the 30 year anniversary of campus and community radio station CKDU, and will run from March 2-8.

CKDU community and campus radio, a show 30 years in the making, celebrates. On Monday, an exhibit celebrating the 30th anniversary of Dalhousie’s campus radio station, CKDU, opened at the Khyber Centre for Arts.

The exhibit is called What’s Left on the Dial: A CKDU Retrospective. Photographs, posters, and newspaper clippings from CKDU, all accumulated over the past 30 years, are displayed. The exhibit runs March 2-8.

Starting on Tuesday, so as not to interfere with the opening night speeches, there will also be listening booths with music and sound samples taken from the sound archives, according to the event curator Kim Hornak.

Keith Tufts, former station manager, spoke to an intimate crowd of about 20 people about the history of CKDU and the work that has gone into it over the past 30 years.

“So many unserved cultural voices found their audiences in our first few years, so many artists found their voices as well,” he said.

Tufts says that there were a 180 volunteers involved when the radio station launched, and only six paid staff. He attributes getting the station off the ground to the sheer will and determination of a lot of people.

“Everyone and their dog who was involved in art in this city flocked to us, and helped us make this station an FM radio. We were determined to be the best radio station in Halifax.”

Tufts ended his speech with recalling some fond memories, such as kidnapping Dalhousie’s president until they raised the money they needed, or the time he literally walked into Kurt Vonnegut as he left the studio, or, last but not least, Hunter S. Thompson finishing an entire bottle of whiskey while being interviewed, then going to give a speech to all of Dalhousie.

Jason Johnson's show, “I really love you,” aired on CKDU for 5 years. He DJ’d the opening night. Photo: Jeana Mustain
Jason Johnson’s show, “I really love you,” aired on CKDU for 5 years. He DJ’d the opening night.
Photo: Jeana Mustain

The evening’s music was provided by a small record player and DJ’d by Jason Johnson. Johnson has been contributing to CKDU for the past seven or eight years. His show, which ran for around five years, was called “I really Love you”, and played music from the 1950s and 60s. He said he used to listen to CKDU in university and found it inspirational. Johnson said he is proud of how far the radio station has come and was honoured to be asked to DJ the 30th anniversary of CKDU.

“I think it is amazing that they’re still able to be on the air,” said Johnson.

The evening also launched This is Radio Wheat, a new beer selection created by Garrison Brewery in honour of CKDU.

Veronica Simmonds hosts a show called Braidio on CKDU. During her show she braids people’s hair while live on the air. She says that community radio has a healthy future.

“There’s a particular power to being placed with people, which is why I think terrestrial radio and community radio will live on forever,” said Simmonds. “I have been touched by the experience of being in that chair, and I know that I have touched other people.”

The opening of the exhibit was a milestone for the station and Tufts said he hopes to be back here in another 20 years, celebrating CKDU’s 50th anniversary.

Filmmaker wins $35K to make short film on Alzheimer’s

Grant will cover the cost of making short film inspired by her grandmother’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis.

Leah Johnston — who grew up in Truro, N.S. — won a $35,000 grant from Bell Media’s bravoFACT on Sunday in Halifax. The grant will go towards the making of her newest short film, a commentary on Alzheimer’s disease.

BravoFACT, a foundation dedicated to supporting Canadian shorts, partnered with Women in Filmmaking and Television Atlantic (WIFT-AT) to launch a pitch contest at WIFT-AT’s annual Women Making Waves conference held on Sunday. The five finalists for the grant pitched their short films to a panel of four industry professionals on Saturday.

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While working in Los Angeles, Johnston wrote a sprawling 35 page epic that she says wasn’t possible to make into a short film. That was the first draft of “Ingrid and the Black Hole,” which is about two children imagining the possibilities of time travel.

It wasn’t until she moved back to Truro as a part time caretaker for her grandmother — who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s — that the concept began to fall into place. “Ingrid and the Black Hole” is a tale of children and time travel, but is also a commentary on the disease.

While caring for her grandmother, Johnston watched Alzheimer’s at work from a sobering front row seat. “Suddenly I knew how to tell the story and have the same themes, but tell it in a shorter and engaging way,” she said.

As a young girl, Johnston realized her love for film and theatre. She was cast in Neptune Theatre productions, and went on to complete a BFA in acting at New York University. However, waiting around for auditions and potential gigs proved to be unfulfilling.

Johnston moved to Los Angeles after seven years in New York and took an interest in photography. “Acting is a very collaborative process,” said Johnston, “and you can’t really be creative on your own.”

Through shooting conceptual pieces, Johnston flexed her creative muscles and began gaining a small online following. But photography wasn’t enough — she wanted to make her pictures move.

That’s how Johnston found her calling as a director. “I love directing because I get to be in control,” Johnston said. “It’s a symphony of the arts.”

Hoping to combine her passions of acting and photography, Johnston wrote a script and shot her first short on a 5D camera in Los Angeles.

“I was ashamed of it for awhile,” Johnston said of the short, “Another Man,” that she both directed and starred in. It later won the Jury’s Choice and Audience Choice Awards for best short at the Parrsboro Film Festival.

The grant from bravoFACT will cover the budget for “Ingrid and the Black Hole,” and Johnston says it’s the biggest cash budget she has ever had for a production. She hopes the short, which will be shot in Nova Scotia, will make its premiere at next year’s Atlantic Film Festival.

“People here are really genuinely passionate about their work,” Johnston said of filmmaking in Atlantic Canada. While unsure about the future, Johnston dreams of drifting back and forth between Halifax and Los Angeles.